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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 13.Jan.23

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
dir Jon Abrahams
scr Anthony Del Negro, Carl Moellenberg
prd Carl Moellenberg, Anthony Del Negro, Zach O'Brien, Shane O'Brien
with Jordan Ver Hoeve, Andrew Matthew Welch, Makenzie Vega, Hannah Rose May, Will Peltz, Spencer List, Sierra McCormick, Colin Bates, Lisa Thornhill, Leah Pipes, Kayla Harrity, Kyle Wallen
release US 28.Jan.22,
UK 6.Jan.23
22/US 1h21

Is it streaming?

may and ver hoeve
While this thriller is awkwardly assembled, it's also the enjoyably lurid tale of a college student who stumbles into a secret world of internet-based sexuality. The fresh-faced cast is sparky enough to keep things involving, while director Jon Abrahams creates a slick and sexy vibe. But the film's pacing is uneven, so as the story unfolds it seems increasingly ridiculous, simply because plot details are so random.
As he begins university, Brian (Ver Hoeve) is pulled into the partying lifestyle of his roommate Jeremy (Welch) and his girlfriend Lexi (Vega). Then on a school-supplied memory stick, Brian discovers a folder of videos of a student (Bates) in a variety of online sexual encounters, including one in which he seems to have been murdered. But Jeremy seems involved somehow, and Lexi's roommate Janelle (May) is also up to something. Working with his tech-savvy stoner brother Jacob (Peltz), Brian unearths more information about the people in these videos. And now they're in danger too.
Everyone in this movie is hiding something, and both Brian and Jeremy have violent visions and nightmares that are related to these webcam clips. To add to the jarring ambience, Abrahams approaches scenes from odd angles that seem to violate the perspective, although the slack editing combined with a generic thriller score makes everything feel somewhat cheesy. As does the villain's ludicrous fetish-gimp outfit. Meanwhile, the plot moves at a halting pace, telegraphing its twists and turns far in advance, eliminating even a hint of suspense.

Heightened filmmaking makes everything feel fragmented and overwrought, but most of the actors manage to remain grounded, while also having some fun with the nutty melodrama. Ver Hoeve is a likeable lead, making Brian just naive enough to be sympathetic. Even if he never settles on one personality, Welch has strong on-screen presence even if everything about Jeremy is badly overstated. In side roles, Peltz has strong charisma while others kind of blur into the background.

While the movie generates some visual style and physical energy, the plot never overcomes its simplistic structure, as neither the writers nor the director trust the audience to think for themselves. Odder still is how the script simply assumes that being gay is something that should be hidden, then preaches about the dangers of repression. But there are some enjoyable grisly moments on the way to a properly bonkers finale. As well as some true darkness in the premise.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality 3.Jan.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Shayne Pax
prd Shayne Pax, Lisa Hall, Robert Murphy
with Shayne Pax, Susan Harmon, Harry Hains, Michael Minyard, Carole White, Erin Hammond, Michael Redford Carney, Fox Sinclair, Tuesday Thomas, Christine Syron, William Baker, Aika Greenidge
release US 4.Oct.22,
UK 5.Dec.22
22/US 1h03

Is it streaming?

pax and harmon
With a loose, homemade feel, actor-filmmaker Shayne Pax tells the earthy story of an unlikely friendship. The film is uneven, with some clunky plotting, dodgy technical issues and awkward performances. It's also strangely underpowered, circling around an idea that never quite comes into focus. Still, there's plenty of scruffy charm, and the story engages as it traces the central character's odyssey and the impact of an unexpected connection.
Handsome young hustler Gabriel (Pax) works the grimy streets of Los Angeles with a group of colourful friends. One day on a Metro platform, he meets Martha (Harmon), a friendly widow who hires him to spend time with her during the holidays. Escaping their separate situations, the two take a trip to the coast. As he reads her memoir and learns more about her, Gabriel makes notes in his journal and begins to think about his own future. But he also continues to feel like his life is heading toward a dead end.
Fragmented, deliberately elusive storytelling keeps the audience at arm's length, never quite letting us into Gabriel's mindset and leaving the surrounding characters, apart from Martha, feeling somewhat anonymous. But watching Gabriel's rather enigmatic activities is fascinating, as he continually dodges his clients. Indeed, he never seems to actually have sex with anyone. There's some added intrigue in his willingness to steal whatever he can get his hands on. Although with Martha, he refuses to let her pay.

On-screen, Pax has a strong presence even if Gabriel seems to lack even a hint of energy or motivation in anything he does. He's determined to send money home to his mother, but his relationship with her is never developed beyond some general hints. Opposite him, Harmon's Martha has a nice matter-of-fact sensibility, even if her actions are just as opaque. And while dropping in big plot points, the script leans a bit heavily on the echoing mother-son issues between these two lonely people.

As a filmmaker, Pax finds interesting rhythms in scenes that feel improvised, while the scripted dialog is tentative. Much of the film is assembled from random clips edited together into montages, often in slow motion. There are some beautifully shot moments along the way, but the narrative also indulges in cliches, from an ominous hacking cough to a colleague's overdose. These things give the film a emotional and cautionary tone, even if the tale feels somewhat unfinished.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Dec.22

The Seven Faces of Jane  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Seven Faces of Jane
dir Gia Coppola, Boma Iluma, Ryan Heffington, Julian J Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Ken Jeong, Alex Takacs, Gillian Jacobs
scr Gillian Jacobs, Nick Iwataki, Boma Iluma, Ben Del Vecchio, Ryan Heffington, Xan Cassavetes, Julian J Acosta, Antonio Macia, Kaydee Volpi, Tran Ho, Alex Takacs
prd Roman Coppola, Jason Baum, Sarah Park, Allison Amon, Luke Ricci
with Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Joni Reiss, Chido Nwokocha, Emanuela Postacchini, Anthony Skordi, Daniela Hernandez, Leticia LaBelle, Sybil Azur, Caroline Ducrocq, Paris Nicole, Lupe Carranza
release US 13.Jan.23
22/US 1h33

Is it streaming?

mchale and jacobs
Using a process called "exquisite corpse", eight filmmakers made segments of the story without knowing what the others were doing. The narrative traces the surreal odyssey of a mother whose life feels suddenly untethered without her daughter around. The film is gorgeously shot in a range of visual styles that create an involving kaleidoscopic journey. It may sometimes feel a bit meandering, but the approach is riveting and fresh.
After Jane (Jacobs) drops off 8-year-old daughter Molly (Reis) at summer camp, her life takes some surprising twists. She visits a cafe, discovers that she apparently works there and has a fight with herself. Then she meets a boyfriend (Nwokocha) who's playing a concert on the beach. She finds out that an old friend (Azur) is seriously ill, picks up a free-spirited hitchhiker (Postacchini) and meets a girl (Hernandez) who's trying to avoid her quinceanera. She also runs into the man (McHale) who got away and has a haunting encounter with her mother (LaBelle).
Fascinating ideas ripple through each of the film's eye-catching segments, which are both tightly interconnected and stand on their own. Recurring questions of identity connect the various chapters, as Jane grapples with who she is, and who she thinks she is. These are explored in offbeat encounters and flickers of memories. So while the film strikes a generally comical tone, the underlying feelings are powerful as Jane discovers various aspects of what it means to be a woman and mother.

Jacobs skilfully finds ways to maintain a consistent character even if each segment strikes its own distinct tone. Some are brightly amusing while others are more darkly thoughtful, but Jane remains tightly engaged to everything that's happening. This involves a full range of feelings and physicality, including moments of dance-like movement. Her various encounters are played with a heightened sense of perception and emotional impact, drawing the audience right into her experiences.

As Jane's experiences continue through what seems to be a long day and night, there's a remarkable sense that she's trying to find something she can cling to, either in familiar places or relationships, but everything looks different now. This brings an intriguing sense of longing both for what once was and what might have been. And she also realises that there are things that are much more important than chasing a dream of happiness.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 12.Jan.23

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